With No NBA Finals, Prime-Time Ratings Drop 26%

Rash Report: Viewers Pull a Disappearing Act

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Missing the big tent of Tuesday's NBA Finals, Wednesday night's prime time plunged 26% in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic -- repeating the pattern of the 14% drop-off from Sunday to Monday -- as the week's ratings roller coaster continued.
Barkers Howie Mandel and Drew Carey.
Barkers Howie Mandel and Drew Carey. Credit: NBC/CBS

Indeed, a roller coaster would have fit right in with Wednesday's prime time, which looked a bit like a carnival, with a midway including NBC's "Celebrity Circus." The 90-minute show delivered a 2.0/6 rating and share, with the 10-11 p.m. ET portion winning its timeslot. But this was down 13% from its prime-time premiere last week, leveling off with its lead-in "Deal or No Deal" (2.2/7). For the night, NBC averaged a second-place 2.1/6.

Crime doesn't pay, but game shows do
"Deal," with host Howie Mandel carnival-barking a simple game of chance, was able to beat the rival barker (not Bob, but his replacement Drew Carey) on CBS's repeat of "The Price Is Right: Million Dollar Spectacular" (1.2/4), which led into reruns of network TV's version of a haunted house -- the often gruesome and ghoulish police procedurals "Criminal Minds" (1.7/5) and "CSI: NY" (1.9/6) -- to give CBS a 1.6/5 fourth-place finish.

And no midway is complete without amateur talent shows, which have become the staple of summer prime time. The CW, for instance, aired reruns of "America's Next Top Model" (.3/1) and "Farmer Wants a Wife" (.8/2) for an overall .6/2. And Fox's two-hour "So You Think You Can Dance" had the most viewers peeking their noses under the tent, as the 3.3/10 made it the highest-rated network of the night.

But while summertime midways usually attract crowds, network TV is often producing the opposite effect: Having already chased away many males, the networks need to at least hold onto women and kid viewers, like those represented in third-place ABC's "Wife Swap" (1.7/6) and "Supernanny" (two versions, each rated 1.7/5, which was also the network's average for the night).

Instead, drawn to the thrills (and spills) of original cable series and summertime popcorn movies – not to mention amusement parks -- viewers are routinely taking part in another longtime carnival midway tradition: A disappearing act.

WHAT TO WATCH:
Thursday: Although CBS's "Swingtown" is likely to last about as long as some of some of the hookups it portrays, it has an addictive, soapy TV tonality that makes it easy escapism.
Friday: With Friday's prime-time ratings about as high as daytime ratings, it's fitting that the Daytime Emmy Awards ceremony run on ABC.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Thursday is a rare night offering two original dramas -- "Swingtown" and NBC's "Fear Itself" -- as well as the usual reality and repeats. Which makes for a good ratings lab to see to what degree there is an audience for a first-run summer series.

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NOTE: A share is a percentage of TV households that have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all TV households, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. households with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)

John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see rashreport.com.
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